Zen and the Art of Nymph Fishing

For me, fly fishing the nymph is meditative, maybe even a form of Zen. Zen may look like a speculative system, a religion, or a philosophical outlook; its ideas and concepts may seem purely abstract to the ignorant or uninitiated–but it is actually concerned, in a real and burning sense, with our experience in the present. Westerners have long had difficulty in understanding principles of the East. Perhaps this is fueled by the Christian missionary body of Western thought that seeks to go and impart and not to receive. The East and West have developed along different lines, but there is no reason why one should not supplement the other.

The West has gained expansion at the cost of restlessness; the East has created a harmony which is weak against aggression. Many Westerners, particularly during the 1960’s, attempted to understand Eastern thought in Zen as a sort of innocent “anything goes.” Many characterized Zen as if you did anything you pleased without regard to social restraint, at the exact moment you pleased to do it, that would express your Buddha-nature. In fact, Zen is “attached to social disciplines so meticulous they make the Puritans look almost degenerate.”

Bringing the longstanding western tradition of fly fishing and Zen together in words is a formidable task. The first issue is that fly fishing is an art and, therefore, generally only definable through experience. The second issue is that the Zen is another ambiguous concept.

As Roger Hill points out in Fly Fishing the South Platte River, “Fly fishing is a sport of attention to detail. Although the individual activities of fly fishing are indeed easy, it is the whole rather than the sum of the parts that counts. You must do a number of easy tasks well and simultaneously. You can’t do half the tasks right and expect to catch half as many trout as you would if you did everything right.”

Read more in the book. 

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